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Culture – the “X Factor” for Building Back Better after Conflict and Disasters

MD Staff

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Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built.  Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people, their stories, and how they interact with each other through their cultural identity and sense of place.

As seen when one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War, local communities demanded and prioritized a full rebuilding of the original bridge with a message loud and clear: “A person killed is one of us; the Bridge is all of us.”

Subsequently, international efforts supported by UNESCO and the World Bank helped rebuild the Old Bridge and restore the Old City of Mostar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar attracts tourists from around the world, creating jobs and revitalizing the local economy.

With the shared conviction that culture is critical to achieve sustainable urban development and to ensure effective post-crisis reconstruction and recovery processes, a new World Bank – UNESCO Position Paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery (CURE), was presented today at UNESCO Headquarters to propose an enhanced culture-based framework for city reconstruction and recovery that integrates both people-centered and place-based approaches.

Culture at the heart of people, spaces, and city recovery policies

Symbolizing the fundamental role culture plays in the recovery of a city’s physical, social, and economic fabrics from war and conflict, the story of Mostar is emblematic of today’s cities and communities worldwide.

“Culture is a key source of resilience, reconciliation, and social cohesion for cities and communities,” says Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. “As the partnership of UNESCO and the World Bank across the world told us, including in Haiti, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, preserving culture is critical for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction processes.

As the world continues to urbanize at an unprecedented speed and scale, cities are increasingly bearing the brunt of conflicts, crises, and disasters. Natural hazards such as storms, floods, and earthquakes are becoming more intense and frequent, with a disproportionate impact on urban areas. Meanwhile, armed conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and causing widespread destruction in cities. Both are having a devastating effect on culture.

How can countries and cities best prepare themselves to effectively address increasing crises generated by acute urban distress?

Local contexts may vary, but successful policies must be both place-based as well as people-centered. While place-based strategies prioritize the reconstruction of physical assets, people-centered strategies can strengthen community ownership and social inclusion, improve livability of the built environment, and accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of cities.

At both the foundation and intersection of people and places lies the “X factor” of culture. Through cultural heritage and creativity, culture is essential as both an asset and a tool for city reconstruction and recovery. Without prioritizing culture, reconstruction processes can induce additional disruption of physical and social fabrics.

The CURE Framework

The CURE Framework provides guiding principles that integrate place-based and people-centered approaches through culture into sustainable urban development policies – to help cities effectively address the impact of urban crises.

“The CURE Framework marks an important milestone in the ongoing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO to advance sustainable urban development by investing in culture, urban regeneration, and resilience in an integrated manner,” says Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.

The new framework and operational guidance takes policy-makers and practitioners through the planning, financing, and implementation process.  The CURE Framework highlights the foundational role of culture and emphasizes that effective city reconstruction and recovery programs require that culture be mainstreamed across the damage and needs assessments, as well as in policy and strategy setting, financing, and implementation. Finally, this collaborative effort recognizes that the integration of culture into post-crisis urban development and recovery can contribute substantially to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The report draws upon global experience to demonstrate progress being made on the ground. Whether it is building a citizenship culture in Medellin, Colombia, to counterbalance the city’s violent past or fostering peace-building through transparency and community engagement in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, culture is the centerpiece.

Other experiences include post-earthquake cultural heritage conservation and recovery of the Old Town of Lijiang, China; promoting reconciliation through preservation of cultural heritage in Nicosia, Cyprus; and improving disaster risk management for the conservation of monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. In Iraq, the World Bank and UNESCO are preparing to collaborate on the rehabilitation of Mosul, building on the CURE Framework, as part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative and the World Bank’s Emergency Operation for Development project.

According to the position paper, culture as the foundation for recovery often begins with the physical reconstruction of iconic landmarks such as the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. At other times, the collective act of rebuilding shared heritage is the impetus for community rebirth, such as the post-conflict reconstruction process of religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Furthermore, Tokyo, Japan, demonstrates how a cultural construct approach, coupled with innovative land readjustment mechanisms, results in a resilient city that flourishes against many considerable odds. In the report, examples of Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Beirut, Lebanon, demonstrate that recovery without culture must eventually be adjusted to achieve sustainable results.

By adopting the CURE Framework, national and local leaders will be able to place culture at the heart of their own city reconstruction and recovery processes in the face of crises – whether they are disasters, armed conflicts, or urban distress situations – to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all, which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the local, regional, and national levels.

World Bank

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Arts & Culture

Architecture Reflecting Culture: The Alhambra

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Throughout history civilizations have been overtaken by successors.  These in turn decline and fall as time marches on.  Often all that remain are monuments, an occasional palace or temple often a tomb, usually in ruins unless of relatively current vintage.

The ancient Egyptians built massive pyramids to bury their pharaohs, projects lasting a lifetime and ensuring a reliable source of income for the workers and others involved. 

The Greeks favored exquisitely proportioned temples and statuary rendered with a skill that was not matched again until the Renaissance.  One would be remiss not to mention their vast output of the mind from philosophy and logic to the poetry and drama played out in the amphitheaters.

If Roman entertainment relied on blood and gore, it was part of a culture of brutal wars, subjugation and suppression of foreign peoples welded into an empire.  Then there was Roman law, even if it applied only to citizens.

Of more recent vintage are the great cathedrals of Europe like Chartres, tall, massive, constructed in a span of time unimaginable in our era of haste.  Preceding them were the great mosques of the Muslim era decorated in geometric shapes and colors to dazzle the eye.  Damascus and Isfahan come to mind.

Then there are the Nasrid kings of Grenada in southern Spain, al Andalus to these descendants of North African Berbers and Arabs who ruled there for several centuries.  A time when the three Abrahamic religions coexisted in relative harmony it saw the flowering of a civilization noted for its mixture of opposites.

The city of Cordoba with its great mosque was an early fruit of this admixture becoming the largest city in Europe during the 10th century, although civil wars had diminished it considerably by the 13th century.  Yet the 13th century began the growth of a city on a hill now called Alhambra probably due to the reddish color (alhamra in Arabic) of the rock face.  Housing some 40,000 citizens then, not many of the buildings survive.  Notable are the defensive citadel Alcazaba, three palaces — the Mexuar, the Comares and the Court of the Lions — and an encircling wall with battlements and towers.  The great mosque was replaced by a Franciscan monastery in the 15th century and is now a parador — a government-run hotel that was formerly a castle or palace or the like.

The Courtyard of the Lions is justly famous as the symbol of Alhambra.  The twelve lions at the center appear to be holding up a water basin right in the center of a network of channels …  on the periphery, colonnades supporting delicately carved arches form an abbey-like cloister.  But the walls in the adjoining rooms hold their own surprise in intricately carved geometries of colored tiles and plasterwork.  Glancing up, the ceilings are designed to take your breath away.  Even more intricately constructed, they comprise thousands of meticulously carved sections of wood rising layer upon layer to feast the eye as small apertures allow in shafts of sunlight or moonlight.  Watercourses run through many rooms spilling across portals into pools among enclosed gardens melding interior with exterior and joining it with nature. 

The architect LeCorbusier called it ‘the intelligent, just and magnificent interplay of volumes made harmonious by daylight.’  Henri Matisse exclaimed, ‘The Alhambra is a marvel’ and Washington Irving captured imaginations throughout the western world with his 1832 book, The Alhambra.  At the time going to rack and ruin, his romantic vision helped to trigger an effort to preserve the precious gem.

Now a magnet for tourists, it remains a precious reminder of what an intermingling of cultures can produce — just as the Taj Mahal does in India where Mughal emperors often married Hindu Rajput princesses and Shah Jahan (whose mother Manmati was one) built his own marvel.

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Don’t avoid what is easy – diplomacy meets art

Tiiu Meiner

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Harbour for Cultures - Yerevan cards

Individuals should and need to feel like they have the right to want. That is the message that artist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova is continuously expressing through her artwork. Exemplifying socially-engaged art, Lemberg-Lvova aims to be a part of a much broader political movement which discusses important historical and modern-day social processes through creative means.

The second-wave feminist movements from the 1960s is one example of such a powerful movement. With their infamous quote, ‘The personal is political’, authored by millions of voices of women collectively rather than one feminist author, the message that every individual has the right to a voice was heavily stressed. As personal experiences took center stage and the individual became a political platform during the feminist movements, crowds of individuals also gained new meanings of courageous collectivity. Ultimately, the movement gave opportunity for previously ignored and taken-for-granted personal circumstances to be framed in a bigger picture – a picture that women as minorities were often left out of.

Continuing to portray the central message that movements such as the feminist strikes and many other historical crusades have fought for, Lemberg-Lvova uses her own art to focus on the younger European generation, highlighting the vast diverseness of the voices that live in Europe and sending a bold message that evidences a heterogeneity which needs to be more thoroughly discussed amongst the European community. With her projects, she is able to recognise the ways in which the systemic infrastructures that exist around the individual leave them feeling insecure or insignificant in relation to their voice and its right to exist in public. By initiating healthy conversation and focusing on this very elemental act of daring to express one’s desires towards public space, she has created a platform that encourages individuals to learn to voice their opinions more often, ultimately leading the person to be engaged as the multiplicities of voices are amplified to lead to more diverse discussion and perhaps outcomes. 

Anastasia avatud stuudios Kogo galeriis (foto Mariia Nedosekova)

Her exhibition, ‘Don’t Avoid What is Easy’, on show from August 14th – September 9th at the Freedom Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, is thus the result of 2 years of research conducted mainly through interviews of younger generation individuals during her own expenditures through Europe. Although seemingly humble in its outcome as portraits, there is a strong message behind Lemberg-Lvova’s work, depicting the notion that we should feel more confident to voice our opinions about our public surroundings, Lemberg-Lvova uses art and representations to give a voice to over 100 participants from 24 European countries.

By painting vibrant oil portraits of a selected 7 individuals whom she interviewed, she touches on the concept of art and its political capacity by explaining “There will be portraits of participants with a visual interpretation of their wish as the background. The experience of, as we often say, “putting a face to a name” has a profound effect and is more intuitively understood than just going through text or trying to grasp abstract ideas. Painting as a form of expression is immensely malleable and useful when getting ideas across.”The desire to initiate discussion and give it a platform within the context of a gallery means Lemberg-Lvova’s art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing space where the audience can identify small changes that resemble the tip of a much bigger iceberg– or at least the ignition of confidence and curiosity. 

This focus on the first and easiest step sometimes being the hardest is something of great importance for Lemberg-Lvova as she explains “An inhabitant of a city logically has the right to express ideas or wishes when it comes to their surroundings – it is, after all, their home. But they are often stuck in the belief of not being able to change anything. In this instance, I am not talking about taking action or creating a plan. This is about the simplest first step that does not require anything – feeling like one is entitled to express a wish. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere; just remember that you have the right to want something. What follows is a different matter, but it is clear that nothing will happen without this first step.”

An interactive wall installation where participant answers are projected for all to see will pay homage to the importance that Lemberg-Lvova holds for communities to listen to the expressions of their surrounding civilians. She explains “From an early age, our heads are flooded with subliminal messaging and that often diminishes internal self-worth. Let me explain this from the point of view of a woman – a frame of reference I am most familiar with. As a woman one feels that unless they have perfect dazzlingly white teeth, flawless hair, a tiny waist and the right kind of shoes they are not worthy of expressing an opinion. Because if you do not fulfill all of the criteria above, no one will listen to you or even consider you worthy of attention. This is a cliché, yet it exists because it is true. It describes the reality of many women, because we are surrounded by sources reaffirming it – adverts, friends, sometimes parents or spouses, fitness centers and the list goes on. At the exhibition, I am striving to fill the space with messaging that reiterates one’s right to express their wishes whoever they are.

What to maintain_ – Lemberg-Lvova 2020

Her message is clear – we should not avoid formulating our wishes in matters that concern us. Her persistence to initiate discussion and to give it a platform within the context of a gallery means her art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing meeting space for the artist as well as her audience amongst each other.

Open Studio at Kogo Gallery, Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas), Tartu, Estonia: 08.07-01.08

Exhibition “Don’t Avoid What is Easy – Diplomacy meets art”at Vabaduse Gallery: 14.08-09.09

*Valeriya Billich also contributed to this article. Photos:Mariia Nedosekova

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Life of a Bon Vivant

Ankit Malhotra

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Gentleman Sitting in Wingback Chair Enjoying a Brandy Fleece Blanket, John Lyes

Uncertainty and summer saunter in with its retinue of rules, so I am told. While philistines slip into their shorts. Gentlemen don’t do that. At least the ones I know, or rather, admire. I am strongly of the opinion that summer requires meticulous management and planning. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the sartorial preferences, dietary habits, and recreational regime. Additionally, and rather, increasingly significant nowadays, at the bar cabinet, which must gracefully welcome fresh grog.

Change, I am reminded of being told is a perpetual challenge. This is true now more than ever before. This summer shall be different for me; No travel to new or old destinations, no steeps into rich heritage which are pulsing with an unparalleled artistic spirit, no gastronomic sensations and beautifully landscaped parks and gardens that beautifully manicured and most of all, a restricted consumption regime of spirits and smokes. There is no doubt about the fact that the perfection of a sufficient dose of sensual stimulation shall be missed, dearly.

In times of such glaring uncertainty, many of us find ourselves in the rigour of isolation. Yet one mustn’t drown in sorrow, for that pernicious jump into the rabbit hole of total despair will drive to insanity. Instead, in the spirit of making hay while the sun shines, I find myself deeply grasped in my hobbies and interests of art, culture, fashion, and even interior design. In furtherance of my interests and passions, I plan future trips to the European continent for study and debaucherously pleasurable activities while my folks worry about the thickness of their chequebook.

Despite countless hours spent on my multiple whims and fancies devoting time to the daily duties is an art. An art that is similar to the fine tailoring abilities of the talented gentlemen with the extraordinary skill of Hunstman, Savile Row. Managing the split of time is learned and perfected over time, like the of cutting cloth. This skill, over which I have achieved mastery, I am lucky to say, I received at birth from my mother who hails from a decorated family of army officers. For me, it runs my veins to be fastidious. For novices, here’s a hint; Avoid morning lie-ins, afternoon naps, and daytime Netflix binges while leaving tasks to complete after the evening meal. Have some self-discipline, dude.

These days after supper, I find myself sitting back in my armchair engrossed in a new book with either a Cohiba or something out from my patriarch’s prized whiskey collection, resting on my mahogany piecrust tripod table helping me fulfil the senses. Millennial Chilling is not for me. I have often been told that I am an old soul trapped in a new body. To me, that is madness, but I often see the method in it. That is because, I do not find any sense of gratification or contentment in doing nothing but, for those who do, remember, one simply can’t make love seven days a week, much as one’s partner might desire it. Other forms of vigorous exercise are sometimes required.

While I happily drown myself in pursuit of knowledge, I turn to the literary world to share my final thoughts to share a contrary tale. The words of Ernest Hemingway: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. For me, contrarily, the gleeful effect of the fine cognac and Erik Satie’s mastery on the piano has its drowning effect. You hear only what you wish to hear much like my most favoured ruler, Napoleon. To that, I’ll drink.

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